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The influencer: Fort Drum wife and mom creates clout for major brands | Home and Garden


Oct 29, 2022

WATERTOWN — What began as a hobby for a stay-at-home Fort Drum mom and wife has grown into something much more influential.

When Cherissa A. Johnson was growing up in Guyana, a country on South America’s North Atlantic coast, she could not have imagined the business she began here two years ago and the way it has taken off, thanks to her love of being in front of the camera and sharing all things lifestyle-related.

“I would have never thought this,” Mrs. Johnson said. “No way. I’m still blown away by where I am right now, how far I’ve reached. And I’m still going. I’m growing every day with influencing.”

Mrs. Johnson is a social media influencer: someone who has developed a reputation of authority or expertise in one area or more and who uses that authority to engage an online audience.

the influencer

Influencer Cherissa A. Johnson and her family: In back, Master Sgt. Marcus B. Johnson, and children, flanking her, Kansas, 5, left, and Winter, 3, with Genesis, 7, in front. The family’s Pekingese pup is Hagee. Indemma Studios: Photography & Design

Her reputation and following has grown so much that she plans to be the main breadwinner when her husband retires in a few months following a 20-year career in the U.S. Army.

“He will take his boots off, and I will put the boots on in the house,” Mrs. Johnson said.

Her husband, Master Sgt. Marcus B. Johnson, who serves with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, is fine with that.

“I look upon it as a good thing because it’s something she’s passionate about,” said Master Sgt. Johnson. “Initially, it started out as a hobby, especially during the COVID time frame, which was keeping a lot of individuals home. She had to adapt to new challenges and was able to do so.”

Plus, there’s the financial side, Master Sgt. Johnson said. “It’s encouraging because there’s a profit from it based on doing these collaborations with these organizations and businesses.”

His wife’s business, With Sparkle, has content intended for all ages. Mrs. Johnson’s Instagram page has 150,000 followers and she has a team she pays: photographer, Olivia Grant Creative; videographer Indemma Studios and content manager Brittany Zvirzdin. Mrs. Johnson’s management is through TTPM Talent.

“And then, there’s my husband, who is everything,” she said.

The couple has three children, ranging in age from 3 to 7. The household can be especially hectic. Their oldest child is autistic. Master Sgt. Johnson has post-traumatic stress disorder.

Overall, the products Mrs. Johnson promotes range from Maybelline mascara to PowerXL air fryers.

All of this begs the question: How does one make money being an influencer?

Walmart and Family Dollar are among the companies that have sponsored Mrs. Johnson. She said she was paid by them to create content about their brands. But brands, relating to her business, can also involve particular products.

“When you’re at a specific amount of followers for audiences, brands start to reach out to you for their campaigns,” Mrs. Johnson said. “Those brands run campaigns throughout the year. They are paid campaigns, where they are looking for creators like myself to create — whether it’s a video or photo of their product and to share that with my audience. Once you’re accepted into these campaigns, that’s when the payment comes in.”

the influencer

Influencer Cherissa A. Johnson, husband Master Sgt. Marcus B. Johnson and their youngest child, Winter, at Watertown’s Target for a campaign involving the chain. On her Instagram page, Withsparkle, Mrs. Johnson wrote, “A friend once told me ‘I don’t need a shopping list when I Go to Target. I simply walk in, and Target tells me what I need.’” Indemma Studios: Photography & Design

Her influencing focuses on lifestyle matters such as motherhood, beauty, fashion and being a military wife. She found that when she began using hashtags, audience engagement increased. A hashtag is a word or phrase preceded by -, used on social media to search for and identify digital content on a specific topic.

“For example, explaining why I would choose organic kids clothing for one child and anything for another because of skin issues or whatever, I would use the hashtag ‘organic kids clothing’ or ‘organic clothes.’ I then noticed I started to get a wider and bigger audience when I hashtagged,” she said.

Mrs. Johnson said she has a lot of military wives who follow her.

“I just like to create what I know my audience will love,” she said.

busy household

A “shoot day” of filming, from makeup, selecting outfits to reading campaign briefs, can last eight hours.

“Then, there’s the engagement with the platforms like Instagram and YouTube,” Master Sgt. Johnson said. “She’s probably pushing 40 to 50 hours a week.”

Mrs. Johnson, who has an associate degree in business management from Medgar Evers College, Brooklyn, does all of this from her home on base at Fort Drum. She said the main reason she’s a stay-at-home mom is the care required for her oldest child, a son age 7, who was diagnosed with severe autism spectrum disorder at the age of 2.

“Dealing with a child who is autistic, especially with it being severe, you just need around-the-clock parental guidance,” Master Sgt. Johnson said. “Even when he’s at school sometime, we’re getting calls that we need to go pick him up immediately. He needs that care. He can’t prepare food for himself, can’t wash himself on his own and at times, he needs help with feeding himself. We ensure that we provide all of that assistance and that’s the reason why she’s being a stay-at-home mom and playing that significant role in the family.”

The Johnson household is also affected by Master Sgt. Johnson’s post-traumatic stress disorder.

“It’s definitely something I’ve been dealing with,” Master Sgt. Johnson, who was deployed to Iraq three times, said. “I’ve had many instances where I feared for my life.”

“His PTSD does flare up from time to time,” Mrs. Johnson said. “He gets in a mood sometime where he just wants to isolate himself from me a little bit and just lock himself in a room, just to not have us deal with his PTSD. If those flareups happen on weekends, all the kids are home, especially our oldest with autism, and with the other two, it can be very hard and very tough. Sometimes both parents are needed. It definitely is a challenge.”

the influencer

Influencer Cherissa A. Johnson, husband Master Sgt. Marcus B. Johnson and their youngest child, Winter, at Atman Juice Bar & Cafe, Newell Street, Watertown. On her Withsparkle Instagram page, Mrs. Johnson wrote: “The aesthetic and ambiance is stunning. And omg the girls over there are so welcoming, I never want to leave.” Indemma Studios: Photography & Design

Master Sgt. Johnson said he works to not let the flareups get the best of him.

“Like my wife says, sometimes I do have to isolate, understanding that when around family, I can be destructive. I have to make sure, one — I continue to get treatment, and two — when I do identify some of my issues, I separate myself, so that I’m not causing any ruckus within my own household.”

The couple met about eight years ago when Mrs. Johnson considered joining the Army and her husband was working as a recruiter in Brooklyn. He shared some information on what to expect, but noticed she had a tattoo on one of her hands.

“I told her she couldn’t join the Army, but possibly Navy and gave her that contact info,” Master Sgt. Johnson said.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Army updated its regulations for tattoos. It allows for one visible tattoo on each hand (including the palm), not to exceed 1 inch in measurement in all directions. It also updated its policy on tatoos for other parts of the body.

Cherissa and Marcus kept in touch. They were wed in 2017. Before arriving at Fort Drum, Master Sgt. Johnson, a native of Florida, was stationed at U.S. Army Garrison Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn.

Mrs. Johnson emigrated to the U.S. by following her mom, Paulette Fung, who arrived here first. Cherissa is the youngest of three sisters. When established in the U.S., Paulette filed for Cherissa and sister Rocquell to come here, who arrived in 2009. Rocquell is also a military wife, at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

“However, my oldest sister (Jeaniese) had aged out of the visa line which meant that she was no longer a minor so she couldn’t come under my mom at the time,” Mrs. Johnson said. “She still resides in Guyana and is in the process of joining us in the U.S.”

Master Sgt. Johnson was posted at Fort Drum in the fall of 2019.

“There’s a strong potential to settle here,” he said. “We’re engaging in options right now. I still have a few months left before retirement.”

The roots of a Tastemaker

the influencer

Influencer Cherissa A. Johnson, husband Master Sgt. Marcus B. Johnson and their youngest child, Winter, on Watertown’s Public Square. The photo was taken as part of a campaign for Bentley Trike — a convertible baby stroller made to grow with children. Indemma Studios: Photography & Design

Mrs. Johnson’s work as an influencer are rooted in her kitchen at home on Fort Drum, where she created baked goods and posted photos of her creations on Instagram. She would share recipes, with details on preparation and ingredients. Many of her recipes were from her grandmother in Guyana. “They had that one or two ingredient that nobody would really think of putting in,” she said.

To add to the uniqueness, she created personalized boxes for her baked creations.

“I noticed that brands, like a specific type of eggs or flour, would reach out to me through my Instagram DM (direct messaging) and ask me if they could send me their newest launch for me to create a recipe,” Mrs. Johnson said.

She said she originally thought such messages were a scam.

“My sister told me, ‘Yes! It’s real,’” Mrs. Johnson said. “It was coming from a verified Instagram page of an actual brand. I thought about it and said, ‘If I can do this with my baking, I might do reviews for things that I like for myself, my husband and kids — like a lifestyle review page. That’s when I started With Sparkle on Instagram.”

The Sparkle name is a reference to her youth.

“Since I was a child growing up back home, I loved everything sparkly. So much that my nickname was sparkle.”

In an upcoming project, Mrs. Johnson and her family will be creating content related to the television show, “Thomas and Friends: All Engines Go.” The second season of the show premiered on Cartoon Network in September. She said the family will help promote the Fisher-Price product “Thomas & Friends Launch and Loop Maintenance Yard Train Set.”

“I love being in front of the camera, creating and I love sharing my reviews and what I think about these products that I’m promoting,” Mrs. Johnson said. “My goal also is to let fellow military wives and other moms know that even though you’re at home taking care of kids all day and taking care of the house all day, you can find a hobby in something as simple as taking pictures of yourself baking, cooking, or yourself reading to the kids and make reviews of what books you’re reading. And eventually, make that a full-time job like I did.”

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